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Panorama - Monday

Posted on 18 August, 2018 at 4:50 Comments comments (8)

Panorama - BBC One Monday 20th at 20.30 BST 'legal weapon'. This arises from RFD Paul Edmunds buying obsolete calibre revolvers in the US and selling them with homemade ammunition to the scrote community, for which he got a 30-year sentence last November. The Beeb have been sitting on this programme for months waiting for another case to hit the courts - and that case ended on Wednesday with the dealer acquitted. Edmunds was a one-off rogue dealer, judging by the number of his 'associates' to have been rolled over by the police and come up clean. The Law Commission have recommended that antique firearms should not change hands for cash - a restriction that has applied to the scrap metal trade for sometime - and the Policing and Crime Act 2017 empowered the Home Office to introduce regulations to define an antique: which they haven’t yet. That's at the heart of this: the first Firearms Act in 1920 exempted antiques from controls, subject to being possessed solely as curiosities or ornaments. These two words had been used in conjunction with each other to advertise 'Exchange and Mart' magazine (founded 1878) in other publications, so in 1920 everyone knew what they meant. The landmark prosecution was Richards v Curwen in 1977 - which acquitted him of possessing two early mark (1890s) Webley revolvers. To be an antique, the firearm has to be kept as a curiosity or ornament after which its obsolescence by age is the question of fact and degree. The court rejected the prosecution argument that the Webleys used 'modern' ammunition on the basis that using ammunition type as a definition would mean they'd never become antiques, but also said that 20th century firearms probably wouldn’t be antiques. Naturally, the Home Office ignored the Court of Appeal and continued to rely on ammunition as defining antique versus modern. The secret memorandum of guidance to police (1969) suggested that obsolete ignition systems were antiques and carried that thinking through to the published version in 1989 with advice that possession of ammunition might indicate that something wasn’t a curiosity or ornament. Then in 1992, pressured by the passage of time, came the obsolete calibre list. That caused some prosecutions: one of our members had a collection of Martini Henry rifles on the wall and one on his firearm certificate for target shooting. So when the police rolled him, he was prosecuted for all the antiques because he had ammunition. They dropped that at the court door. Most of the prosecutions I dealt with (as an expert witness) were people who kept old guns as curiosities or ornaments and the prosecution challenge was that the stuff couldn’t be antique because it took ‘modern ammunition’. Acquittals included a pre-1893 .410” shotgun, a 12 bore 1910 Greener GP, loads of black powder proofed hammer shotguns and a few really old revolvers: all predating 1900, so the acquittals were in line with Richard v Curwen and the anomaly was the prosecutions – driven by guidance to the CPS that didn’t tell them how to decide whether to prosecute or not. In 1994 R v Brown, the Court of Appeal acquitted him – he had a .22” War Office pattern rifle – and said that time had moved on and so must the definition. Bill Harriman was the defence expert in that one. Prosecutors continued to apply guidance that did not take account of case law to their decisions. I had a case in which magistrates convicted a dude of all his collection – a Luger pistol, a 19th century blank firing single shot pistol and two flare pistols. These came to him as frames only: he made the stocks, trigger and locking latch and ‘barrelled’ them with copper tube. They looked quite smart, but the obsessive prosecution ‘expert’ insisted that they were lethal barrelled weapons. We didn’t appeal, as the magistrates gave him a conditional discharge and instructed police to give me the exhibits for deactivation so that the defendant could have them back. In another case, the exhibit was a Colt New Service revolver that had been changing hands round a shooting club for the previous 20 years or so. Police traced it back to when Army and Navy stores sold it new in 1915. The officer buyer gave it to his son for WW2 and he gave it to his daughter’s boyfriend in the 1970s – as he belonged to the club. The club secretary was convicted and fined £150. That was typical in such circumstances and remained so until the 2003 Anti-social Behaviour Act brought in a mandatory five-year sentence for possession of a prohibited small firearm. Handguns were banned in the UK in 1997. That had the effect of making a defence of ‘antique’ a bigger deal, because instead of £150 fines, five years inside would be a life changing experience. Our early experience of antiques cases post 2003 was prosecutions being dropped if a robust antique status argument was put up. These mostly related to obsolete calibres that weren’t on the Home office list. That list didn’t include .320, for example until the 2003 revision and still doesn’t include .455” – the ammunition that the Richards v Curwen revolvers (1977 acquittal) took. Then attitudes hardened – we think that the Home Office needed convictions for old tat to make gun crime look as though it were on the up. Juries didn’t want to convict collectors of obsolete stuff with a five year gaol term in the offing: significant acquittals included a 1942 Lanchester submachine gun and a 1946 Inglis Browning GP35 – David Dyson was the defence expert in those cases. That got the Law Commission into paranoid overdrive and led to clauses in the Policing and Crime Act 2017. Meanwhile, Paul Edmunds was buying old revolvers in the US, making the cartridges and selling into the black market. The case against the section 5 dealer that finished Wednesday started in January 2016 with police burning the electronic locks off his driveway gates. More than thirty police vehicles convoyed in to disgorge over 100 policemen who searched the house in the presence of his young family. He had a small antiques collection and was charged with possessing them without the authority of the secretary of state (which he has) on the strength of ammunition in his armoury might be suitable for use in them. Such is the paranoid obsession that drives the Home Office. Separating firearms licensing from the police and Home Office to a competent agency is long overdue in the UK. The jury acquitted him after the traditional two-hour lunch break. So what now? We’ll have to watch the programme and see. RL

Spree Killers - the role of the weapon in crime

Posted on 23 February, 2018 at 4:40 Comments comments (1)

 It’s always fascinating to see how others see us: Rachel Blevins article published on thefreethoughtproject.com on the 18th February and attached to the SRA’s Facebook page by Edward Beck a few days later is a case in point. The thrust of the article is that the spree killer suspect in a recent Florida school shooting had purchased the AR15 rifle legally and that while his rampage has sparked calls for more gun control, in countries like the UK where such controls already exist, he could have used his legal knife collection for the rampage instead. (We haven’t checked his knife collection against UK law: some types legal in Florida may be prohibited here.) The American gun ‘debate’ is a polarized one in which any literary entrant has to present as ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ and then is only going to be read by the side he or she is writing in support of. Writers who can’t be easily categorised are background-checked and investigated to the enth degree before being dismissed by whichever side disagrees with them. The polarised sides of the debate have to know whether a writer aids their cause or not before bothering to read them. So whether Rachel Blevins is pro, anti or just inquisitive as to the facts may matter to some readers, who will immediately ignore her perspective if she in any way intrudes on their preconceived position. It doesn’t matter to us, because the point she is reaching toward isn’t a gun debate point: it’s an old sociological one. As Shooters’ Rights Association secretary, nobody is likely to assume I’m anti-gun, which means some people who don’t own guns will have stopped reading by now. That said, I used to write on Handgunner Magazine; that had a huge readership among which gun owners were a minority. My writing approach was double-layered. The practical side was always written from experience, but had to be supported by the wider academic background to any subject, so if I were writing about the AR15 rifle in this piece, the history of its development, the teething troubles experienced in Vietnam and the way in which design (and manufacturing material) changes brought about the product we know today is as important to a rounded article as what it’s like to use, its fitness for purpose, its quality and panache. Will it be around in a hundred years time like our centenarian Short Lee Enfield rifles are now and still will be? Personally, I take a libertarian view of what this world has to offer us. As the ‘BREXIT’ debate raged around Westminster and the BBC, I couldn’t help pointing out that the free movement of people and goods between Britain and Europe was all sorted out in the Bronze Age. What our forebears lacked was governments and once they’d caught up with that concept, their problems started and have been passed down to us. The problem with governments is they believe their reason for being is to control the rest of us. Control is a question of give and take: they take taxes off us and then spend that money on things they give us. The Romans used tax money on infrastructure to help the rich grow richer, while they gave the poor free clean water (all those aqueducts), free bread and free entry to stadia to watch chariots races, gladiators fighting or lions eating: so enough about what you can have as a prole in Roman society. Rachel Blevins summarizes Britain (in the context of her article) as 37,443 knife offences (September 2016-17), of which 12,980 took place in London and these numbers are 21% higher than the year before. Four people were stabbed to death in London on 31st December 2017, making 80 for the year. She comments on our strict gun laws and suggests that the Florida spree killer suspect could not have owned his AR15 in the UK before pointing out that despite our laws (actually, because of them) 6,694 gun crimes were recorded in the year September 2016-17. The numbers are a distraction from her point, but as an aside consider a few more numbers. The late Colin Greenwood reckoned on an average 600 murders a year in the UK, of which 50 would be by firearms. Those ballpark numbers have changed so little in my lifetime, despite a 50% increase in population since WW2, that percentage differences between years are worthlessly erratic. The actual numbers though, are low when set against the number of lethal weapon ‘crimes’, so immediately one can see that there is a lot more to ‘gun’ and ‘knife’ crime than murders. The most recent homicide figure available (709) includes 96 people unlawfully killed in 1989 at Hillsborough Stadium in a crowd control failure, so other years will have other anomalies. Murder is a crime at common law, so it’s always been there. Most gun and knife crimes are not murders, so they’ll be violations of statute law. Firearms laws in the UK start in 1870 with a licensing act, followed by firearm certificates in 1920; to which additional categories of prohibited weapons (1937) and shotguns (1968) were added. Since then, various knee-jerk measures have caused unintended consequences that additional knee-jerk measures have been patched onto but fail to address and that process continues to this day. Policing adopted a policy of trying to prevent ‘the public’ having access to firearms in 1972, which in their terms meant reducing the numbers registered. A poor measure, since barely 10% of the UK’s gun stock is registered, but that’s another article. That policy has been aided by the government banning some types and the courts exempted others from certificate controls and the fray continues, such that it’s a reasonable bet that a lot of ‘gun crime’ in the UK is actually people in the registration system failing to get the paperwork right: which means its law-abiding taxpayers in court, such as James Edmiston – respected firearms dealer – whose horrific gun crime was failing to tell the police about shotguns he transferred from his business to his personal certificate. That would account for six of the gun crimes in the year it was recorded as taking place. Knife crime escalates after the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, which created a new category at law of ‘offensive weapons’. Additions have been made to this in 1988 and since, so some knife types are banned (butterfly knives, switchblades etc.) and others are ‘offensive weapons’ when carried in a public place. As with firearms crime, most culprits in the aftermath of the 1988 legislation were law-abiding taxpayers carrying a knife because they always had. One in nine adults had been in the Scout movement (which abolished wearing knives on the uniform in 1966) and most men over fifty had seen military service (conscription ended in 1958) and had a jack knife issued as part of kit. So the crime figures came from stop-and-search of fishermen, electricians and lorry drivers. British knife and crime statistics include all this policing of soft targets; people who didn’t know they were doing anything wrong and certainly hadn’t violated any of the Ten Commandments. But back to Rachel Blevins: her point is that if one way of murdering schoolchildren in bulk is denied to the wannabe spree killer, he’ll adopt another method. Emile Durkheim (French sociologist 1858-1917) established that point in the context of suicides (published in 1897) and his points are transferable to other violence. Would the Syrians have resorted to dropping improvised barrel bombs on schools and hospitals if poison gas was readily available to them? Can North Korea resist the urge to use nuclear weapons now that they have a delivery system for them? British spree killer David Copeland used nail bombs powered by gunpowder from readily available fireworks for his 2002 killings. The AR15 type rifle available to the Florida spree killer is a variant that was banned in the UK in 1989. It seems to be a given point that spree killers use what’s available and thus what’s legal in their jurisdiction at the time, but will have committed some other existing offence prior to the homicides they committed. It’s also a consistently apparent fact that spree killers commit their atrocities where it’s safe (for them) to do so – of which more below. David Copeland’s crime prior to murder was dismantling fireworks, which is illegal in the UK. Both the Hungerford murderer in 1987 and the Dunblane school killer in 1996 violated firearms legislation by taking their guns together with ammunition into a public place without lawful authority or a reasonable excuse prior to killing anybody: so they deliberately violated one law on their way to violating another. What prevents crime in society generally is twofold: one element is that there is sufficient for your needs: your parents don’t deprive you of anything essential and the other is us learning the parameters of social control from our peers and teachers by which we each develop a moral compass. Jesus Christ had that figured when he summarized the law and commandments as love your god with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself: which sounds fair as a moral compass until one remembers that his criminality attracted the death penalty. Must’ve been some statute law he crossed. And that happens a lot in the UK, hence our knife and gun crime rates. The Home Office studied the role of firearms in robberies in the 1990s. Their study was limited in scope, but what came out of it was how many armed robbers were (a) predisposed to serious crime beforehand and (b) decided upon the armed robbery for which they were in prison when interviewed as a result of coming across the weapon they used. A couple had real guns and ammunition. The rest had something else (the old sawn-off cucumber in a paper bag trick), a ‘realistic imitation firearm’ or just said they had something. What they all had in common (apart from the WW2 veteran who was trying to make a point) was that the ‘remote control’ of a firearm in the furtherance of gaining cash prevented violence both by and toward victims. Following the four knife murders in London on 31st December, the Metropolitan police wanted help with tackling the menace – as they saw it – of people carrying knives in public. These are mostly carried, according to them, for defence. The obvious problem with carrying a lethal contact weapon for defence is what can you do with it to defend yourself? That predicament for Londoners has a long backstory, but in summary, knives are easy and legal to access, while all the obvious non-lethal options for encouraging others to mind their own business have been banned in the UK: more accurately, they are ‘police only’. Stun guns, Taser, kobutans and truncheons are all prohibited to the public in public: so following the time-honoured ‘solution’ to that problem, as articulated by Emile Durkheim in 1897, ‘the public’ move on to what is available. This is a separate debate point from the wider one of why one might need a weapon for self-defence while out in public at all. Not an easy one to answer, but historically, Brits who could afford it have always done so. Before the handgun ban in 1997, Birmingham auction house Weller and Dufty was the gun trade’s second-hand engine room at which civilian pocket pistols and revolvers were a common sight. Pocket bulldogs in .45”, continental revolver in .320”, pinfire and rimfire vied with post-nitro .25ACP pocket pistols for small bids. Pre-WW1, carrying firearms was as common in the UK as it is in westerns, except traditionally Brits carried concealed. Wearing a sword fell out of convenience as coach travel was made easier by George III’s road building programme. Gentlemen switched to overcoat pocket pistols, hence the large patch pockets on topcoats. In 1909, some Eastern European types tried robbing a factory payroll in Tottenham and got chased to Chingford by police who borrowed guns from passers by – some of whom joined in the hue and cry. At the time, police optionally carried concealed revolvers on night duty, so they were armed as Jack the Ripper prowled Whitechapel in 1888, while his victims were not: too poor for that, they could only rely on the forces of law and order to defend them. In principle, being armed for defence is a critical mass issue, the same as inoculations: for the latter to work, a large enough proportion of the population has had to have the jab so the disease can’t readily jump from one host to another. In the case of self-defence, the more people prepared, the less likely the need to use it. An armed society is a polite society and courtesy of Massad F Ayoob, I worked with police in New Hampshire, where half the adult population had concealed carry permits. One accidental suicide, one attempted suicide and an M1911 in an out-of-town drug dealer’s car was it. The teenage gang fight involved non-lethal weapons. Provocation by skinheads led a yuppie to produce a stun gun, whereupon someone lumped him with a 13-ounce drinks can and his mate added pepper spray to the mix. Everyone went home – eventually. Yet in the UK, our government’s policy has been aimed precisely at criminalising preparedness: disparaged as “on the off-chance of being attacked”, it’s what everybody did quite naturally from 55BC at least until a government official in the 1950s felt the need to ‘do something’ and the result is that avoiding becoming a victim is now as judicially dangerous as being the attacker. British policing has been trying, for some decades now, to take responsibility for public safety upon themselves: i.e. by not recognising the public common law right to defence, while at the same time not accepting responsibility for their failures to provide that protection. So the solution to being a potential victim is preparedness, which is what Donald Trump was thinking of when he spoke of arming teachers; he also made the point immediately that they would be properly trained – a sentiment we endorse in the certain knowledge that an example of an untrained person with a gun is Oscar Pistorius. It is common ground that spree killers attack soft targets – where they wont get hurt by return fire. We are not aware of a single example of a spree killer breaking this rule, which suggests that Donald Trump’s lateral thinking is pointing the right way. Spree killers attack in gun free zones: we thought about this when a British soldier – Lee Rigby – was run down and then hacked to death by a couple of halfwits in 2013. The aerial shot of the crime scene showed a lorry had stopped behind the crime car: now if the lorry driver had been armed, the outcome might have been different and a lesson handed to wannabe terrorists not to mess with Britain: but instead we have a deer stalker in prison because the blocks on four of his licensed revolver chambers were deemed ineffective and a movie armourer is in prison because one of his blank firing weapons supposedly passed through the prohibited weapons classification between being an inert replica and becoming a blank firer. The police are making it very clear to the public that its too dangerous to get involved with firearms; for however hard you try to be legal, they’ll find a way of getting you into court, as with James Edmiston, and that’s the message behind the UK’s gun crime figures.

De-Acs - it's all change again

Posted on 15 February, 2018 at 0:25 Comments comments (0)

 The gun trade have deactivated firearms for just about as long as they have existed. A firearm is a lethal barrelled weapon from which any shot, bullet or missile can be discharged. Deactivation (in Home Office newspeak) means rendering such a firearm incapable of discharging any shot, bullet or missile. Students of the English language will be familiar with phrases around ‘spiking guns’, which was a simple and effective way of preventing muzzle loaded ordnance being fired – hammering an iron spike into the touch-hole. Another method, used by Santa Anna’s forces after the battle at the Alamo in 1836, was to smash the trunions off the guns. Gun barrels were cast with these protuberances on either side, by which the barrel was fixed to the carriage. In an 18th century English court case; the cocks were chiselled off the locks to make the pistols ‘safe’ for production in court. Obviously, these methods of deactivation are all reversible. An iron spike can be drilled out and the touchhole bushed: double clamp hoops will replace trunions and new cocks can be made and fitted to locks. It remains thus: anything man makes, someone else can unmake and a third man can remake. Enid Blyton understood this and articulated it in the famous story of Big Ear’s bicycle bell. However, getting the Home Office to understand basic gunsmithing is more of a problem, as we shall see below. The main reason for deactivating firearms: is alchemical – changing one product into another. Following America’s Civil War (1861-5) there were huge quantities of surplus smallarms at a time when they were not only redundant, but obsolete as well. The mainstay of both armies in that war were muzzle loaded muskets: Britain supplied both sides in the interests of fairness and neutrality. During the war breech loading designs proved themselves and took over afterwards, as the military both shrank and fanned out westwards for the Indian wars. Scottish entrepreneur Francis Bannerman bought up surplus muskets to recycle the metal barrels. He fitted wooden broomsticks onto what was left and sold the resultant wallhangers as ‘quakers’. The British army took to converting worn out rifles so that they wouldn’t fire for drill practice purposes. Typical 19th century military deactivation amounts to a saw-cut through the breech, the firing pin cut off and the letters ‘DP’ stamped on the knox-form and quite often on both cheeks of the shoulder-stock. Surplus to government requirements French model 1871 single-shot bolt action rifles were re-barrelled to 12 bore: auctioneers catalogue them as ‘Zulus’. Other – and often cruder – deactivations turn up. We encountered a batch of Martini Metford carbines, which had their cleaning rods hammered into the bores. The political shift in Britain came in 1981 when blank shots were fired near HM the Queen during the trooping of the colours ceremony. The (then) police federation’s spokesman MP (Sir) Eldon Griffiths immediately proposed draconian restrictions on blank firers and the Home Office, as is their want, shelved his proposals (for later use) and handed him what they already had awaiting a ‘suitable legislative opportunity’. Their problem, in 1981, was Major Noel Corry. A registered firearms dealer in Steeple Bumpstead on the Suffolk/Essex border; he was importing Spanish made flint and percussion rifles and pistols, correct in every detail except the touch-holes were not drilled: so you can work out for yourself that these were ‘readily-convertible’ to live firing with a hand drill and making that modification would be a criminal act unless one obtained a firearm certificate first. Hence the 1982 Firearms Act: this legislation made possession of a readily convertible firearm an offence the same as if it were already adapted to live firing, but only if the crown could prove that the defendant knew how. In effect, if one tried to make the conversion, successfully or otherwise, that exposed guilty knowledge. The Home Office issued guidance to the gun trade as to how to make imitation firearms that were not readily convertible to live firing, most recently updated in 2011. Enterprising registered firearms dealers used these guidelines to render live firearms inoperable. That had been going on for some years anyway, hence cases such as R v Jobling and R v Pannell in the 1970s. Robin Pannell was a registered firearms dealer in Devon/Cornwall who pioneered both deactivation and smooth-boring rifled barrels to make shotguns out of redundant military kit. The smooth-boring of Bren guns etc. generated various court cases, as registered firearms dealers sold them to shot gun certificate holders and the police tried to find ways of preventing lawful trade and possession. In one case it was argued that the Bren gun barrel was less than 24 inches long. It isn’t, of course, it’s 25 inches, but that includes the flash hider and the discredited and now defunct Forensic Science Service argued (unsuccessfully) that it was the length of the bore that defined barrel length. That is true at the rear end, as the Act says to measure from where the charge is exploded on firing, which means the cartridge rim or, in the case of a muzzleloader, the nipple or priming pan. That would mean all the metal behind that point – base plug and tang or locking lug – doesn’t count, despite being firmly attached. In one case, a chap was prosecuted for owning two bored out Lee Enfields on his shot gun certificate. One was .303” smooth for blank firing and the other was in .410” musket. The jury acquitted him of the .410” and convicted him of the .303” in the time-honoured style juries have of trying to give each side something. This fetched up at the Court of Appeal before Lord Lane as Attorney General’s Reference no 3 of 1980 – R v Hucklebridge. That case solved the two problems put to the court by the Attorney General. Lord Lane said that firstly if the barrel was smooth bored and more than 24 inches long, it was a shotgun and secondly he said that all the parts of the gun were parts of what it is. The AG had suggested that conversion of the barrel only took that component out of section 1, leaving Mr Hucklebridge in possession of a section 1 receiver and bolt. The shotgun point was largely over-written by the 1988 Act, which took smooth bored Bren Guns back into section 5 (prohibited weapons) controls by stating that conversion did not affect classification. These days you can ‘lift’ a section 2 shotgun into section 1 or 5 by modifications, but can’t take it the other way. The Lee Enfields went back into section 1 by virtue of having detachable magazines, although the Act did permit further modifications to keep them in section 2. The guidance that accompanied the 1982 Act served the trade to process live weapons into de-acs without spending time in the dock the way Robin Pannell had – and would again in 1983. The Birmingham Proof House inspected firearms thus processed and issued certificates of unprovability stating that the weapon was deactivated and could not be fired. The London Proof House didn’t and two dealers in the MPD fell foul of London’s finest in consequence of not bothering to fag up to Birmingham. Peregrine Arms was prosecuted for transferring revolvers he said he’d deactivated to a person or persons unknown. The other wasn’t prosecuted, but his RFD was withdrawn, as had also happened to Peregrine. The 1988 Act adopted deactivation as a principle. The Home Office minister at the time said it would enable self-loading rifle owners to keep their rifles, but in practice it opened the armouries to releasing thousands of obsolete military weapons onto the collector market. The Forensic Science Service was always uncomfortable with anyone but them having firearms of any type and seemed to spend most of their time after 1988 searching for ways of prosecuting people for trying to act lawfully. A case at Luton crown court in the late 1990s involved a chap with a de-ac collection. The crown claimed that his MG42 was a section 5 weapon because the barrel wasn’t welded in: his MG34 ditto (both had proof house certificates) and his Bren gun was said to be section 5 because the weld holding the barrel to the receiver had failed. This prosecution ignored the obvious – that they were not lethal barrelled weapons from which any shot, bullet or missile could be discharged. The case left the jury to decide into what category such items belonged. Reactivation attempts also occurred. The case above came about because the Pre-95 guidelines required MG34 and 42 barrels to be welded in. The proof house would have wanted them in for inspection before the barrels were welded in, so the anomaly that caused this case was a dealer not completing the deactivation after inspection and marking. Neither side called the proofmaster in to explain why the guns had the deactivation proof mark on them without complying with the guidelines and whether that contradiction invalidated the proof mark, as claimed by the crown. Nevertheless, the process of reactivation necessitated obtaining (or making from scratch) the essential parts. These are restricted in the UK but easier to obtain elsewhere, so an Irish republican sympathiser reactivated an AK rifle using parts sourced from America and shot a police officer with it. The Forensic Science Service came up with new guidelines about how to deactivate firearms in 1995 – this was when submachine guns had to be welded solid and revolvers could no longer chamber dummy cartridges etc. The 1995 guidelines also called for deactivation of magazines, which can still be bought on the open market. There followed twenty years of dealers and collectors trying to act lawfully and law enforcement trying to prove otherwise: with the odd knee-jerk reaction, such as the ban on air cartridge revolvers in 2003 and then we get to 2015 when the incoming Conservative administration started work on the policing and crime bill. That took two years to grind through Parliament and so far as deactivated firearms are concerned, this is what it says in clause 128: 128. Controls on defectively deactivated weapons After section 8 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 insert— “8A Controls on defectively deactivated weapons (1) It is an offence for a person who owns or claims to own a defectively deactivated weapon— (a) to make the weapon available for sale or as a gift to another person, or (b) to sell it or give it (as a gift) to another person. (2) Subsection (1)(a) does not apply if— (a) the weapon is made available for sale or as a gift only to a person who is outside the EU (or to persons all of whom are outside the EU), and (b) it is made so available on the basis that, if a sale or gift were to take place, the weapon would be transferred to a place outside the EU. (3) Subsection (1)(b) does not apply if— (a) the weapon is sold or given to a person who is outside the EU (or to persons all of whom are outside the EU), and (b) in consequence of the sale or gift, it is (or is to be) transferred to a place outside the EU. (4) For the purpose of this section, something is a “defectively deactivated weapon” if— (a) it was at any time a firearm, (b) it has been rendered incapable of discharging any shot, bullet or other missile (and, accordingly, has either ceased to be a firearm or is a firearm only by virtue of the Firearms Act 1982), but (c) it has not been rendered so incapable in a way that meets the technical specifications for the deactivation of the weapon that apply at the time when the weapon is made available for sale or as a gift or (as the case may be) when it is sold or given as a gift. (5) The Secretary of State must publish a document setting out the technical specifications that apply for the purposes of subsection (4)(c) (“the technical specifications document”). (6) The technical specifications document may set out different technical specifications for different kinds of weapon. (7) The Secretary of State— (a) may from time to time revise the technical specifications document, and (b) where it is revised— (i) must publish the document as revised, and (ii) specify in it the date on which any changes to the technical specifications that apply for the purposes of subsection (4)(c) take effect. (8) In the case of a weapon rendered incapable as mentioned in subsection (4)(b) before 8 April 2016, subsection (1)(a) or (b) does not apply if the weapon is made available for sale or as a gift, or (as the case may be) sold or given, by or on behalf of a museum in respect of which a museum firearms licence is in force to another museum in respect of which such a licence is in force. (9) References in this section to “sale” include exchange or barter (and references to sell are to be construed accordingly). (10) In this section, “museum firearms licence” means a licence granted under the Schedule to the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988. (11) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable— (a) on summary conviction— (i) in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months (or, in relation to offences committed before section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 comes into force, 6 months) or to a fine, or to both; (ii) in Scotland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both; (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or to a fine, or to both.” It’s a weird piece of writing. In effect, everything deactivated by whatever system used in the last 500 years is a ‘defective’ de-ac. They aren’t firearms (lethal barrelled weapons from which any shot, bullet or missile can be discharged): in effect, they are out of proof, although many of them weren’t ‘proofed’ as de-acs in the first place. If you have any de-acs from any period you can keep them as they are. Doing nothing will be no more dangerous than it has been in the past. The forces of law and order don’t respect firearm and shot gun certificates, firearms dealers registrations and deactivation certificates as anything more than loopholes you use to try to possess your property, thus seeking to prevent their restricting the possession of firearms in the UK (now that the Forensic Science Service is gone) to police only. • You can advertise pre-2017 de-acs for sale for to sell it to someone outside the European Union to whom said lump of metal could then be exported. • You can likewise sell them to a UK museum that holds a museum licence. The 2017 Act included a massive hike in museum licence fees to discourage museums from keeping firearms collections in any condition. • You can give them away to a UK museum or someone who has the benefit of living outside the EU to whom it then has to be exported. Outside of these exit-from-ownership strategies, you can’t sell or give them away, so you can’t leave them to anyone in your will. You can take them with you if you decide to live elsewhere, subject to your retirement idyll being outside the EU and accepting of your eccentricities. It’s not an offence to buy them or to receive them as gifts, so unlike air cartridge revolvers, they can pass on by inheritance. Air cartridge revolvers that went onto firearm certificates in 2004 can only be disposed of to the police when the certificate expires or is revoked. They can’t pass on to anyone else. Clauses 4(c) and 5 imply that you can upgrade your de-ac to the new specification, but doesn’t say how you can transfer it (or who to) for the purposes of getting that work done, or might be authorised to take it and what authority they need to possess it before the work is carried out. Everywhere else that firearms legislation talks of sales, mention is made of letting on hire or lending. This clause prohibits neither, so theatrical armourers can still hire out ‘defectively’ deactivated firearms and theatrical companies can lend them to the relevant actors. So one might assume that we can lend our defectively deactivated firearms to a gunsmith to do the additional work on them and presumably there will be a new proof house certificate at exorbitant cost to demonstrate compliance BUT clause 7(a) says that the Home Office can change the spec at any time, thus rendering any work you have done to your property retrospectively obsolete. It could turn into an annual fee paying event to help keep the deactivated gun trade and proof houses in business, which makes it clear that the Home Office is in dire need of a clear-out to make room for officials who respect the public and know something of constitutional law. It’s worth noting that nothing in the 2017 Act has any impact on blank firing guns, so we think converting pre-1995 de-acs to blank firers might be the best way of maintaining their value and that value can then be realized when you want to sell, as they can be sold. It’s a weird state of affairs that causes the Home Office, yet again, to target the law abiding. A thoroughly discreditable performance from thoroughly discredited and out of touch department.

What a Troll

Posted on 16 October, 2017 at 14:25 Comments comments (2)

Just a Troll On Saturday 7th October a ‘video’ got posted on the Airsoft Nation’s Facebook page in which the SRA rated a defamatory mention. What sparked things off was the launch of a new airsoft association – UKASA – United Kingdom Airsoft Site Association, which the ‘video’ author felt the irrational need to sneer at. The main source of airsoft product appears to be Taiwan. Quality, build, feel and utility have improved immensely in the past two decades since the SRA included ‘airsoft skirmish’ in their public liability insurance policy. Their usage has also broadened: classified these days as ‘Realistic Imitation Firearms’ (RIFs) by the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, they are photogenic enough to serve as wall hangers, set decorators, collectors’ items and in living history displays: as projectile launchers in battle re-enactment and in target shooting they feature in both the gallery-style shooting shy one might encounter at a country fair and at target shooting clubs: besides that, they get used by war-gamers in airsoft skirmish and by movie-makers as props. Home Office concerns about the public owning firearms have a long back-story, consisting largely of a series of ignorance-based knee-jerk reactions to unrelated events. Back in the 1960s, the Wilson government repealed the 1870 Gun Licensing Act, that being a tax costing more to collect than it raised. Gun owners were supposed to buy one unless they had a firearm certificate or a game licence: so clay pigeon shooters needed it and air gun owners were supposed to acquire them after Moore v Gooderham (1960) decided that low-powered air guns were firearms and not toys, as earlier held in Bryson v Gamage Ltd (1907) In the course of making that decision, plans were drawn up to introduce a shot gun certificate, that they then shelved as not worth the bother, in 1965. On 12th August 1966 three Metropolitan policemen were shot dead and the media hue and cry was for the restoration of the death penalty: suspended for an experimental five-year period the year before. The names of the murderers who escaped the rope because of that temporary (later permanent) reprieve became famous: Ronald and Reginald Kray, Myra Hindley, Ian Brady and Harry Roberts. Had they hanged, they would be as nameless and faceless as the last two men hanged in Britain in 1964. Home Secretary of the day Roy Jenkins headed off the media storm by cracking down on shotguns: the usual knee-jerk diversionary tactic that this saga will encounter again and again. The police murderers had used handguns; shotguns only featured in poaching cases, domestic homicides and suicides, and as swag in burglaries, but on the ‘do something’ mantra that politicians live day-to-day by, it was handily still near the top of the litter bin. And that would have been that, except the Home Office gave the job of issuing the certificates to the police, instead of to the Post Office that had previously issued gun licenses. Some 600,000 people applied in 1968, causing another knee-jerk reaction: this time by (Sir) John McKay, chief inspector of constabularies. He went into a frightful funk at the thought of so many people, particularly in cities, having guns, little realizing that only one in four (SRA’s estimate) of owners actually bothered applying. The police didn’t know the extent of gun ownership in the UK because it wasn’t a problem and thus wasn’t on their radar. Nevertheless, the urge to ‘do something’ was all powerful, so McKay formed a committee of his cronies and they concluded that reducing the number of firearms in the hands of the public was a desirable aim in itself. So a committee without a question to answer reached its conclusions first and then looked for ‘how’ to achieve their goal rather than letting the evidence show them the way forwards. McKay’s report was so embarrassing that it has never been published. It formed the background to a green paper in 1973 that was flushed into oblivion, along with Sir Edward Heath’s conservative government in 1974, only to re-appear as the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988. Another knee-jerk reaction to events: in this instance the issue of a firearm certificate to an unsuitable person by a police force just going through the motions. This legislation banned semi-automatic centre-fire rifles and legitimized deactivation, thus setting the scene for subsequent knee-jerk reactions. The Home Office didn’t notice, of course. They’d swallowed the police line that reducing the number of certificates was the solution whatever the problem was thought to be and banning some guns by type should supposedly have a reducing impact on certificate numbers. The ‘increase’ in shot gun certificate numbers 1968-88 certainly reflects the increasing wealth and leisure time of the population, but was also undoubtedly driven by late take-up of the requirement by owners. It took the farming community a long time to ‘get’ that the requirement was one each (like birth certificates) as opposed to one per farm, as was the case with poisons, explosives and other such licenses as may be necessary for a working farm to work. After 1988, numbers dwindled, but that’s carborundum policing rather than the public changing its attitudes. The main effect was far more guns outside the control system than within it. Deactivation took tens of thousands of guns out of registration and since demand could not be satisfied within the licensing system, people looked to guns that didn’t have anything to do with licensing instead. Entries to the market included paintball guns, airsoft and air cartridge revolvers. The handgun ban in 1997, while putting ‘real’ handguns into the prohibited section 5 category, also released from the controls altogether captive bolt humane killers and CO2 pneumatic guns. Policy drew the bottom line power threshold far enough above paintball and airsoft for them not to get onto the Home Office radar. We’ve come a long way since the US Government decided that 59 foot pounds was the minimum for lethality. In the UK today it’s 0.7 ft. lb. In January 2003 a drive-by shooting killed two women in a burst of machine gun fire. Machine guns were prohibited in 1937, so naturally some other scapegoat had to be prohibited in the ‘knee-jerk’ ‘do-something’ world of the Home Office. Air cartridge revolvers got it that time around and three years later, airsoft came to Home Office attention. The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 refers to ‘realistic imitation firearms’ (RIFs) while specifically excluding deactivated formerly real guns from the definition. There had previously been public order legislation relating to imitation firearms, but the ‘problem’ was the open sale of RIFs to walk-in custom. A 1994 research paper at the Home Office had found, inter alia, that the armed robbers they interviewed in prison had often made the decision to stage a hold-up because a suitable firearms-look-a-like prop came to hand. Only two of the robbers in that study had real guns and one of them had owned his since the war and had no ammunition. All the others used imitations of one sort or another – this is the old sawn-off cucumber in a brown paper bag trick – or variations of it, and many of them didn’t show a weapon to the victims at all. So the idea was a variation on the US federal five-day waiting period for a handgun. Instead of walk-in impulse buyers being able to make a purchase and then rob next door with it, the Home Office wanted a qualifying threshold that was more than an age bar but short of a licensing system. Airsoft guns were, by then, a specialist subject: ‘real’ gunshops didn’t generally sell them. Air weapon specialist gunshops might have: the only one we were familiar with at the time didn’t and these air gun shops had to register as firearms dealers with the police and keep a register of who they sold air guns to as a result of the VCR Act. The Act lumped airsofts in with any other RIFs – replicas, 1/1 model kits etc. Regulations following the Act in 2007 suggested that public liability insurance would serve as evidence one had a defence under the Act in relation to historic re-enactments. So far as the airsoft side goes, the importers formed UKARA – the United Kingdom Airsoft Retailers Association. Under the Act, airsoft retailers need a defence to a charge of supply. In the case of historical re-enactment, that’s straightforward – the buyer produces evidence of his public liability insurance for that purpose, completes the deal and goes on his way rejoicing. But for airsoft skirmishers, the solution arrived at was registration of players. You attend a game site three times in seven weeks and the organisers register you with UKARA. Then when you turn up at a retailer, he has a defence under the Act for making a sale to you. What you’ve got as you go on your way with your purchase is a realistic imitation firearm in a public place. That has its own problems, all of which are solved by keeping what it is concealed by packaging that also prevents you having access to it in public: ‘securely covered so that it cannot be fired’ as the mantra relating to air guns puts it. There’s no offence of possession per se; the VCR Act and regulations are concerned only with transactions and that sales are limited to authorized buyers. These are persons with PLI for historic re-enactment. The Act and regulations are silent about UKARA registration, as is the Home Office website. As an aside, ‘Airsoft World’ exhibited at ‘War and Peace’ this year and when we trawled through their range of products they couldn’t produce anything that didn’t homage weapons used in past conflicts: so all airsoft skirmish is ‘historic’: sure, you can stage a futuristic scenario for a war game, such as Russians v Germany, but you’ll be doing it with weapons that all served in Afghanistan. So, back to our troll, rambling into an open microphone in a darkened bedroom somewhere in England: his problem seemed to be that joining UKASA involved paying a fee of £30. He seemed aware of UKARA, didn’t know anything about the 2007 VCR regulations and thus didn’t understand the relevance of PLI and then claimed that the SRA’s insurance policy did not exist! That can have consequences; aside from being libel, he’s sought to restrain our lawful trade, which is an offence at common law and crossed the line set in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. He showed someone’s UKASA certificate on his ‘video’ and with that in front of him – with all our contact details thereon, failed to check anything with us. Then, to cap it off, and with our letterhead detailing our website in front of him, he put up a home page from the obsolete website that hasn’t been updated since Peter Brookesmith retired two years ago. More than 3,000 checks were successfully carried out by event organisers this year, made as SRA groups produced their PLI credentials to event organisers and English Heritage venues up and down the country, so the apparent fact that one idiot can’t manage something so simple says quite a lot about him, his methodology and the low standards of his research. He didn’t ‘get’ that there’s no lower age limit on the SRA’s PLI (after claiming it don’t exist), pointing out the 18-age limit on airsoft purchases. Yeah, right. The SRA was formed as an association for grown-ups with real guns. For a grown-up to teach shotgun shooting to a person under 15 years old, it has to be done on land occupied by the teacher, or at a registered clay-shoot. To let a junior use a shotgun on land where merely permission to do so is held, the junior needs his own shot gun certificate and there’s no lower age limit for that. Put another way, would you want to go shooting with someone who doesn’t have PLI? Seriously? That’s the gap UKASA sought to fill, simultaneously providing both buyer and seller with a defence under the VCR Act and that works with the SRA’s PLI behind them. Same as it is behind more than 500 other clubs and associations, as it has been for more than thirty years and we look forward to the next thirty, and fewer trolls. Can’t say the same about knee-jerk reactions though: there’s another one building at the time of writing. The Home Office thinks rifles chambered .50” BMG and held on firearm certificates should be prohibited and is holding a ‘consultation’ about it.

Reply to Home Office proposal for club fees

Posted on 22 April, 2017 at 8:30 Comments comments (0)

BACKGROUND

PROHIBITED Weapons authorities have been issued under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 by the Home Office since 1973. They took over the role from the Defence Council when the only firearms in section 5 were fully automatic weapons. Since then the category has been swollen to include some forty types of firearms and ammunition, as well as some products that are not firearms at all. Some prohibited weapons are in more than one sub-category of section 5. The function and utility of section 5 was to segregate military weapons from sporting ones and to keep the police clear of involvement with those personnel who were involved in their trade and use. Such kit is also subject to section 1, so the prohibited weapons trade also registered as firearms dealers and to this day the police have no discretion to refuse registration as a dealer to any person of company that has section 5 authority. Traders were accountable to the Defence Council until 1973 when the role was moved to the Home Office at the behest of the (then) chief inspector of constabulary Sir John McKay. We note that the Defence Council had no discretion to refuse to issue the authority, as the possession of military weapons is regulated by the common law, while the use of sporting guns is a privilege of sorts. The 1968 Act carried this legislation forwards from 1937 unamended, so there is still no formal mechanism for refusing an applicant, hence there is no appeal mechanism against a refusal either. The move served involved parties poorly. The Home Office narrowed the recognition of who ‘needed’ a section 5 authority, thus eliminating most of the UK’s expertise in the field of military smallarms. This was highlighted when Royal Ordnance needed a product in the following decade and wound up cobbling together a bull-pup rifle from inappropriate parts acquired from what was left of the gun trade. Since then, a lot more firearms and ammunition have been shoe-horned into section 5 - and thus out of police control – while the criteria for having the necessary authority continued to narrow and the ‘service’ provided by the Home Department became less efficient. Nobody had a section 5 for self loading rifles, for example, by the time they became section 5 weapons in 1989 and that held up the process of deactivation and export, a prevention of lawful trade by a government department unequal to its self-appointed tasks. Thirty years on, the Home Office is currently embroiled in a turf war with the police over control of section 5. The Home Office still issue the authorities but relies on the police to assess the applicant and his premises. In effect, it’s a duplication of effort: the police do the foot work and the Home Office issue the authority. Where the police have some objection to a current or proposed section 5 business, the Home Office seems powerless to assert its position as ‘in charge’ of section 5. An Essex dealer was raided by 100+ officers last year and more recently a party said to have been more than 200 policemen raided a disused RAF base in Lincolnshire occupied by several section 5 dealers. And now the Home Office propose a fee of £1,860 for a dealer to trade in prohibited weapons, with a £200 discount if an RFD is applied for at the same time. Since all the checks for a section 5 are carried out by the police in the context of issuing the RFD apart from confirming the business or other need that the applicant has for requiring a section 5 authority, it is not clear what all that money is for. Section 5 authority is a government-imposed regulatory mechanism and is free, as are export licenses and for the same reason. It is not the case that the public at large are funding this service for the few that use it. Using that logic, prisoners should be charged – on a full costs recovery basis – for their time in prison; otherwise the rest of us are paying for a service used by only a few.


OUR OBSERVATIONS

      Firearm and shot gun certificate fees are payable on grant: to defray the additional costs that granting a certificate imposes on the police, as that burden is imposed directly by the applicant. The ‘cost’ of processing the application is part of the general police budget, being partly a criminal investigation and partly crime prevention. The fees that are charged are already swollen disproportionately to the actual costs that the legislation allows. The Home Office have applied the same flawed mechanism to arrive at their inappropriate figure, while in reality the costs of issuing section 5 authority have been accounted for as part of the general Home Office budget for decades.

     The Home Office is, in our view, the wrong department to issue section 5 authorities anyway. The military rifle export contract Sterling Northolt Ltd secured came with the involvement of the Foreign Office, MoD and DTi: the Home Office was only involved at the end of the process as the section 5 issuing authority, and then they failed to issue it because the Metropolitan Police sat on their hands instead of visiting the premises to answer Home Office questions about security. At a subsequent RFD appeal in Sussex, the Commissioner’s representative claimed that it was the Commissioner’s policy not to allow the manufacture of military rifles in London. And we thought that section 5 was a mechanism to keep the police out of the process. The authorities should be issued by a suitably involved government department and external input, such as a security inspection (if required) should be put out to tender so that such delays don’t restrain lawful trade.


HOME OFFICE APPROVED CLUBS

BACKGROUND

     Target shooting, in all its forms, is primarily a social activity engaged in by (mostly) affluent middle-aged right-handed white taxpayers, who have been subjected to incomprehensible vilification for their choice of a non-alcoholic social activity for nearly thirty years now. Prior to the 1988 Act, the Home Office approved clubs under section 11(3) of the 1968 Act. Approval was awarded to clubs that met the criteria: a constitution, 12 members, at least one club officer being a firearm certificate holder and somewhere to shoot. The criteria admitted exceptions, so the Octagon club was approved with a constitutional maximum membership of eight.

     Since 1988, Home Office approval has been through modifications that have restricted the number of clubs for which such approval is an option. The first limitations were on firearms types and day membership. The firearms types excluded all shotguns from use at approved clubs and later developments, such as long barrelled revolvers. The effect is that training can’t be given at clubs for these types. Day membership was a means by which visiting shooters were insured, so without it, visitors had to make their own insurance arrangements and that gave rise to the number of people who obtained certificates without being trained or mentored through the clubs. Part of the reason for that was a Home Office policy of not respecting a club’s views about certain applicants, taking us to the point where a club’s opinion was not sought and people regarded as socially unacceptable in target shooting could obtain certificates.

     Michael Ryan (Hungerford murderer) was one such. Thomas Hamilton (Dunblane murderer) belonged to no club at all and Derrick Bird (Whitehaven murderer) had never been in any club, so in each case the issue of certificates to these individuals was a police decision in which the shooting community had no say.

     A further restriction on target shooting came in to prevent certificates being issued to people that did not belong to a club, so we are now in the position that one has to belong to an approved club to possess firearms for which the club cannot be approved. There is no discretion to refuse a club approval if it meets the criteria, nor is there an appeals mechanism for any refusal or revocation of club approval. Clubs are rejected from time to time. The Targett rifle and pistol club, for example, lost its HO approval when their local police inspector realized they had not minuted an AGM. A problem simply solved, one would think, but it seems that once revoked there is no discussion and no way back. Similarly, the Family rifle and pistol club was refused renewal in 2004. No ground was offered at the time. It eventually transpired that Dyfed Powys police claimed that a club member had used a firearm on a club range outwith the range’s safety certificate.

     So for this 'service' clubs are expected to pay: currently £84 to the Home Office while the decision about the club is entirely a matter for local police. Home Office approval brings two benefits. One is a free club firearm certificate, which is handy for keeping track of club property and ammunition purchases: the other is that club members, without holding a certificate, can use club firearms. This exemption from the need to hold a certificate now only applies to loose ammunition pistols – those that are of designs predating the general adoption of self-contained metallic cartridges in the mid nineteenth century. Members who do not hold a certificate can use club or other club members’ rifles via the exemption in section 16 of the 1988 Act and can’t use any of those firearms belonging to other club members that are outwith HO approval.

     All the ‘tests’ of the criteria for HO approval are currently wrapped up in local policing. The Home Office contributes nothing to this process other than keeping a record of the diminishing number of clubs that have approval. It is testament to the Home Office policy of vilifying firearms and their users at every opportunity and causing target shooting to whither on the vine at a time when every other sport is both on the up and enjoying the boost given them by London hosting the Olympics that there are so few clubs left. Since the Home Office do no more than what the police tell them to, they will do nothing to earn £1,050 for the a six-year ‘licence’ and £900 to renew it. Interesting that it’s referred to as a ‘licence’; we have not noted any change in the law that would make it so, although given the lack of any discretion to refuse and the absence of any appeals mechanism do suggest that’s what it is.

     We note that the proposal document refers to shooting clubs as businesses: which is not true for many. These are social entities. That the Home Office treats them as businesses suggests the DTi would be a better choice of department to manage their approval. The proposed fee of £690 to change the address at which club firearms are stored is bizarre. Club firearms are held on a club firearm certificate and any change of address would be a matter for the local police who issued it. The DVLA will change the address on your driving licence for free, so maybe they should tender for managing HO approval. The document suggests £470 to change the name on the club firearm certificate – which is done by the police anyway for free and £110 to alter the name of the club on Home Office records, which the DVLA wouldn’t charge for.

     At the back of these proposed fees is that the Home Office have a full time department dedicated to these firearms matters, which is not very busy due to its effectiveness at stifling trade and grinding down the social clubs where shooting is provided. The exorbitant cost of staffing that department is, in effect, being shared out among the small number of clubs and businesses that have need of the ‘licenses’. These generate some 700 applications of all types per year (14 a week) and processing them is mainly a case of waiting for the police to confirm that the applicant is a firearm certificate holder, registered firearms dealer or museum curator as the case may be and has appropriate storage for the prohibited weapons.

     The department seems powerless to act until the police have done their bit, which makes the Home Office involvement look rather pointless – a duplicate rubber stamp. There is no appeal mechanism for refusals. Our view of the section 5 issuing function of the Home Office is that it would be better vested in the DTi, since it is that department of state that has more to do with the day-to-day business of the prohibited weapons trade. Or back to the Ministry of Defence, from whence it came in 1973. Those two departments are both involved in the export of military weapons anyway and would thus have a better handle on an applicant’s ‘need’ than the Home Office, which is outside the loop.

     The approval of clubs is not fit for purpose, as it does not cover all the firearms that might be used at clubs. We have this weird situation in which one has to belong to a Home Office approved club in order to possess firearms for target shooting on a firearm certificate, including types that Home Office approval does not extend to, such as long-barrel revolvers and section 1 shotguns. In every case we have had involving clubs in difficulties over their Home Office approval, the local police instigated all the decisions causing the difficulty. It seems to us that the club’s approval might as well be linked to the grant of the club’s firearm certificate. The Home Office is merely a rubber stamp and has been for years.

12th August

Posted on 16 August, 2016 at 6:05 Comments comments (0)

12th August 2016 The inglorious 12th. Harry Roberts shot two London policemen dead fifty years ago today: Messrs DC David Wombwell and DS Christopher Head. His accomplice shot their driver PC Geoffrey Fox. The case still resonates today for various reasons, not least of which is Harry Roberts is out on parole, and living in Peterborough, Cambs, according to the Mirror newspaper. I remember hearing that he was being paroled a year or two ago and thought then of Ronnie Biggs, the great train robber. He was in Belmarsh prison, pretty much on life support, at the same time as former SRA member Bob Kleasen. Bob died in custody in 2003, resisting extradition to the USA. The Catholic clergyman who gave Bob a lot of his time in the final days also had dealings with Ronnie Biggs and said that he thought they’d let Ronnie out when he was too debilitated to get out of bed. The Home Office did not want him turning up on daytime television chat shows doing his worn out lovable rogue routine. So it came as a surprise this morning to read of Harry Roberts being seen jogging in Peterborough. I’d assumed he was at death’s door when released, as successive Home Secretaries said that police murderers would never be let out. One could understand the practical reasons for releasing a bed-bound prisoner flowered up as ‘humanitarian’ grounds, but not this. Harry Roberts has never expressed any remorse for his crimes and in the mid 1980s we had a prison warden client (FAC appeal) who said he’d intercepted a handgun Harry was reeling into his cell on a fishing line. He wanted the gun, says our informant, to prove that he could still do it. So what’s changed? Fortunately, our government had the foresight to prohibit persons who were sentenced to three years or more in prison from possessing firearms, so you can sleep tonight, safe in the knowledge that Harry Roberts isn’t allowed to have a gun and thus can’t prove that he can still do it. The prohibition kicks in on release, so it didn’t affect his (nearly) having a gun in prison. That change actually came the year before the murders. A general election in 1964 ended what the new PM Harold Wilson called ‘thirteen years of Tory misrule’ and with a tiny majority and Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary, he set about the business of being a Labour government. In 1965 Roy Jenkins abolished the death penalty for a five-year experimental period. The last executions had taken place in 1964 when two men were hanged for murdering John Alan West in the course of robbing him. Murder in the course of a robbery was one of just a handful of remaining capital offences in 1965. The others were murder using a firearm or explosive, the murder of a policeman or prison officer and a second murder of any description; and therein clues about why Harry Roberts is still famous. There are a small group of people who gained notoriety in 1966/7 in the media: The Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie, the moors murderers Mira Hindley and Ian Brady and Harry Roberts. What they all have in common is that their crimes should have led to the rope, but for Roy Jenkins’ ‘temporary’ abolition of the death penalty. These names were rammed into the public consciousness by a concerted media campaign to bring the death penalty back. Harry Roberts would have qualified for the drop on three grounds: two murders, policemen and firearm. Brady and Hindley, more than one murder: Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell and held Jack McVitie while Reggie stabbed him. These people became famous for not hanging. You’ll have to look up the names of the last two men to hang in the UK and you won’t have heard of them before. That’s the power of the media. According to the Mirror newspaper, the Harry Roberts legacy was the formation of an armed policing squad in London and the Police Dependents’ Trust, kicked off by a £250,000 donation from Billy Butlin. That may be, but it’s not the legacy we remember. The Gun Licensing Act 1870 was repealed by a clause in the Local Government Act 1966. The 1870 Act created a tax that was largely ignored and in deciding to abolish it, The Home Office had looked at an alternative system for licensing gun owners before concluding it wasn’t worth it. However, once Harry Roberts let go with his Luger in the middle of the silly season, Roy Jenkins needed something to throw into the Fleet Street shark pool for them to feast on, and the plan not to bother with shot gun certificates was near the top of the Home Office litter bin. It got dusted off and served up as clauses in the Criminal Justice bill 1967. Whether it placated the media or not in 1967, we don’t remember, but calls for restoration of the death penalty dwindled and by 1987 the whole idea was history. And that’s Harry Roberts’ legacy, still with us today – as is he. Shot gun certificates came out of the need to feed the media something to divert them from calling for restoration of the death penalty. If they’d succeeded, you’d not now remember the names of the people who escaped the noose.

Somme Centenary

Posted on 3 July, 2016 at 7:25 Comments comments (0)

You might remember the general election's losers resigning as party leaders last year. Now it's all in meltdown at Westminster and the maneuverings remind us that one of the 'issues' about Europe is unelected bureaucrats. I am sure that Roy Jenkins had his eye on one such post when he campaigned to keep us in the common market and said it would not lead to closer political union. Tony Blair likewise had his eye on filling an unelected European seat. Conservative Prime Ministers each tried renegotiating the deal while failing to sort the problems that bother the rest of us. Now we're getting a new Prime Minister, and like so many of those despised unelected Eurocrats, we don't get much of a say in whom it will be. Theresa May has been at the Home Office since 2010, during which time she has done nothing to sort out the refugee/migrant crisis at Calais and she's put more of the police state agenda on the statute books than anyone else in living memory. Michael Gove adopted the 'Rupert of Hentzau' knifeman approach to climbing to the top when he put Boris Johnson out of it. His background is in journalism, same as Winston Churchill. Andrea Ledsom was in the banking industry and Stephen Crabb has a consultancy background. Liam Fox reads as a 'safe' pair of hands and none of them is obviously the solution to our country's problems. Stephen Crabb read my book 'does the trigger pull the finger' and gets the SRA journal, but hasn't engaged with 'our' problems. In the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn was elected last year by a hefty margin of rank and file members, so one has to wonder why so many of his MPs are 'off message'. I suspect an early general election coming out of all this, but whether that will be in time to scupper the Crime and Policing Bill, or whether Theresa May will strip out the European requirements from it in line with the referendum result or whether we'll get stuck with that nonsense (and her) remains to be seen. It's not the ideal political scene in which to remember that this is the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The objective a hundred years ago was to take the pressure off the French at Verdun, where the German offensive had been aimed at bleeding France white. Now they are ganging up on us. One can imagine an eventual scenario in which our failed state is taken over by Germany to safeguard the rights of Scots and Poles who live here and want to remain in Europe. It wouldn't be difficult. Our police would carry on policing, as they did in the Channel Islands and Falklands during previous invasions, after using the firearm and shot gun certificate records to make sure that only they, the invading forces and our nation's bad guys, have guns.

BREXIT

Posted on 3 July, 2016 at 7:20 Comments comments (0)

In the recent journal (issue 58) we said that leaving Europe was a better option than staying. That said there’s a long backstory. Last time we got to vote on the subject, it was an economic trading block and Roy Jenkins said that was as far as it was going. Commerce is the only economic driver on this planet. Making stuff makes money and although services make money they ultimately all derive that economic activity from somebody making something. Brits sorted out their manufacturing and export trade deals with Europe in the Bronze Age, before there were any governments. That trade carried on into the Iron Age. Between Julius Caesar’s expeditions and the invasion under Claudius in 43AD, Briton was exporting surplus produce to Europe and importing luxury goods. That’s business. Having a government on top of that is a bit double edged: governments don’t make money; they cream money off the top of business and use that to fund themselves. It’s what they spend it on that counts: defence and infrastructure being the two that help generate more wealth and prosperity. Building palaces (Herod the Great, Henry VIII, Saddam Hussein) shows a healthy economy – or morally bankrupt thinking. So when Roy Jenkins told us that the EEC wasn’t going to develop into a political union, we knew he was lying. Small government isn’t Europe’s style. Spain, Germany and Italy were all fascist countries to whom democracy is a new trick and France is a centralised police state. Our reading of the runes in the 1970s was that Britain’s permanent government – the civil service and police – wanted to follow the French model and ever since we went into Europe, a lot of the impetus to develop that police state style of government has come from Britain. The clauses in the policing and crime bill (currently before Parliament) were partly taken from the paranoid Law Commission scoping paper last year. They also flagged up their view that deactivated guns are a menace (without saying why or how) and are currently gloating about the clause in the bill that designates all currently deactivated pieces (mostly done to British government standards) as ‘defectively deactivated’ – and requiring reworking to a new European standard (since rejected in Europe) before they can be sold again. That clause was a British inspired knee-jerk reaction to the Paris shootings. The plan seems to have been to bring French and German deactivation up to British standards, as the British gun trade don’t like competing with Europeans who don’t have to work so hard on their products. Someone on the BBC said that the Paris gunmen might be using reactivated deactivated firearms before the gunfight was over, thus highlighting what someone thinks the problem is. We thought the Paris attacks were in reaction to Europe’s foreign policy failures in the Middle East and beyond. Political problems call for political solutions and once one has that – Northern Ireland as an example – the impetus to fight diminishes and the asset stockpiles of weaponry become a liability: Trident as an example. We were in discussions about redundant firearms with Irish sources more than twenty years ago – exploring ways of turning the eventual liability into an asset via deactivation. That was derailed by deactivation guidelines changing in 1995 and government sources insisting on treating the IRA’s proposed truce as a surrender in which they handed their weapons over. The weapons remained a complicated issue to this day, whereas if they’d been deactivated and sold with that provenance they would have become a financial asset to politics instead of an unusable liability. Except in the Law Commission’s views, which are that inanimate objects incapable of anything pose a threat to the police state. So just that one clause in the policing and crime bill was enough to tip us in favour of leaving Europe. Doing so doesn’t solve any of our problems, though. Our current Home Secretary has brought to the statute books more of the building blocks of the police state than any other politician since we joined Europe. Whether she’s just blithely sleepwalking this stuff into law without regard for the consequences or whether she believes in the centralised European police state is not clear. What will be interesting is to see if she dumps the European stuff out of the bill in view of the Brexit result or whether she continues piling on the misery because we haven’t left yet. The good thing about leaving is that it takes the British pressure off the French to pass pointless paranoid firearms legislation, so although there may be no hope for the future of any of our hobbies in the UK, it’ll be easier to carry on in France, where their attitude will relax once they get to grips with how to solve their terrorism problem. We saw the Brexit vote result as truly fascinating, when broken down by areas. Scotland and Northern Ireland wanted to stay in, so the immediate aftermath chatter was of another Scottish referendum and should Ireland be reunited? Apart from London and some large conurbations, England and Wales wanted out. The Labour vote went heavily against the leadership’s half-hearted wish to stay in. We had trouble reading Jeremy Corbin on this one. Our best guess is that he’s instinctively pro-Europe, from whence so much social justice legislation has come, but was uncomfortable agreeing with David Cameron about anything. In the event, he didn’t read his party. The grass roots see the four streams of immigration as their key problem: economic migrants who come here to fill jobs are quite welcome, as that movement creates more wealth for all of us. The second stream is those ‘economic’ migrants who don’t come here to work: these include those speculating that there will be jobs to be found, and more significantly, dependents of workers. They feature in the Labour votes’ concerns because of their perceived impact on our infrastructure – schools in particular. The other two streams are refugees and people from other countries mixing in with them. Nobody understands how they can live on the French coast in full view of the authorities without a problem, but have to find ways into Britain below the radar. Once in below the radar, they stay there: supported by family or people from their village already here, they’ll work in the black economy, exploited by those who they thought were helping them. Being in Europe seems to have created this problem, so staying in was no solution. We think it’s been badly handled and staying in Europe would have gained more traction if the government had paid any attention to the public’s concerns. We worry a lot less about whose making up the new rules than we do about unsolved problems like the people camping near Calais. The current ‘game’ is what the Scouts called ‘run-outs’: get to the flag and you’ve made a home run. We think it should be changed to ‘snakes and ladders’: go collect them all from Calais in a fleet of busses, process them and return those who shouldn’t be trying for entry to their county of origin same day. It’s got to be cheaper than what the current system costs. We were in Calais last summer when the cross-channel traffic was severely disrupted. There were ten miles of lorries there in all directions and more in Kent. Operation Stack filled the M20 and in all that, one lorry carrying fresh shellfish to the continent was held up so long the food went past its use-by date. More than £100K written off and that came straight off the company’s corporation tax, or out of the government’s pocket. One lorry, one day in disruption that lasted over a month. To do the math, lorries park up at roughly ninety to the mile. Leaving these problems unsolved generates racism. Worried Labour voters see Polish delicatessens on every street and Jack Straw’s idea that the government should destroy the knowledge of firearms in the UK rings hollow when one realises that almost all the eastern European men did their military service at home before coming here. There are more people in the UK now with first hand experience of self-loading rifles than there have ever been in our history. And that’s before you add in the theoretical knowledge of the X-Box generation. There is no fast solution to our problems, and we suspect it will get worse before it gets better. We point out in the journal that Lloyd-George’s intention to restrict firearms to the upper class ‘friends of the government’ is still alive and well in Whitehall. What they have yet to figure out in the ivory towers is that it’s our country too.


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